Canada’s highest court has upheld interpretations of the Criminal Code that apply automatic publication bans in cases when there is no jury, which media and civil liberties advocates say stifles press freedom.
The unanimous 47-page ruling was issued Friday morning by the seven justices of the Supreme Court of Canada, who considered the matter after hearing oral submissions in Ottawa in May.
The ruling involved two separate jury trial cases, one of them the high-profile trial in British Columbia of the Dutchman finally sentenced to 13 years in prison for his role in the death of Amanda Todd, a 15-year-old girl from Port Coquitlam, BC
Canada’s Supreme Court justices were asked to weigh the public interest against protecting the rights of the accused, considering that most media stories remain online forever and are easy to distribute widely.
‘Intention to protect’
They ruled unequivocally on two parts of the Criminal Code: one that establishes general prohibitions on the publication of information during jury trials that would normally be before the jury if they were not in effect at the time; and another that gives judges jurisdiction over any matter that would be decided if a jury existed.
“Parliament’s intention to protect the fundamental interest of the accused in being tried by juries that are not exposed to or biased by the content and decisions on the matters examined in his absence is immediately clear from the text of the provisions,” reads the ruling, written by Chief Justice Richard Wagner.
“Parliament intended to protect the jury from information about any part of the trial from which they were absent… this objective is relevant both in respect of the existing jury and the jury yet to be empaneled.”
There was great interest in the ruling from the media and others, as a decision upholding its challenge could have influenced future cases about how courts implement section 648(1) of the Criminal Code and whether the blanket ban Whether or not the publication of the jury trial code applies to pretrial matters even before a jury is selected.
Article 648 (1) of the Penal Code says, “no information concerning any part of the trial at which the jury is not present shall be published in any document or disseminated or transmitted in any manner before the jury retires to consider its verdict.”
In 2012, Todd committed suicide after posting a video on YouTube using flashcards describing how she sank into depression after being exploited online.
Lawyers for Breaking:, along with co-appellants Global News, Postmedia, CTV News, Glacier Media, CityNews, Globe and Mail and Toronto Star, argued that failure to report details of pre-trial court proceedings that took place over a period of 15 months, limited freedom of the press.
They wanted the courts to clarify the ban and only apply it after a jury was selected. That was dismissed.
Lawyers behind the challenges argued that the wording of the section was ambiguous, but Wagner wrote that, in context with other sections of the Criminal Code, including 645(5)there is no confusion.
“The plain meaning of the text is not in itself determinative and must be contrasted with other indicators of legislative meaning: context, purpose and relevant legal rules,” the ruling reads.
The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, intervening in the case before the Supreme Court of Canada, said in an Ottawa court in May that the blanket publication bans resulting from section 648(1) could prejudice the fairness of the trial by not allowing public scrutiny of the criminal process.
Lawyers representing Cobán and the Crown said in May that section 648(1) is a “safeguard” against any potential miscarriage of justice and that any matters heard during the pre-trial phase should be considered part of the trial.
He another case The content of Friday’s ruling involved a pre-trial publication ban in Quebec involving Frédérick Silva. The former mafia hitman was charged with four counts of murder and one count of attempted murder between 2017 and 2018 and was convicted on four counts in 2022.
In recent years, 648(1) has been challenged in several cases for being interpreted too narrowly, including another high-profile case involving an RCMP officer who had an affair with a key witness in the related shooting. deadliest gang operation in British Columbia history.